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Call for understanding, calm in changing environment

August 5, 2020

THE Wimmera’s peak economic development body is calling for patience, understanding and consideration as the region adapts to renewed restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wimmera Development Association is working with support services, state government departments and economic development officers at councils to ensure businesses receive and understand what stage three lockdown orders mean for them. 

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the changes to restrictions earlier this week. They are effective from midnight on Wednesday, August 5. 

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness called for patience as people adapted to the changing environment. 

“Many businesses adapted quickly before, and they will do it again. But for many, it won't come without its challenges,” he said. 

“We will see impacts that weren’t as evident the first time around. 

“The region desperately needs rain and this is adding strain to the agriculture sector that has, until this point, performed strongly. 

“For many industries, this is a complex time. The ripple effects of stage four restrictions in Melbourne flowing onto the Wimmera Southern Mallee is not insignificant. 

“I encourage people to spend locally and support local businesses if you can – look local before you look online, support local and give local the best chance of emerging strongly from this period.” 

The state government and some councils are offering grants for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

Mr Sounness encouraged businesses and individuals to access the following services: 

  • The Department of Health and Human Services provides real-time updates online. With relation to businesses, economic development officers at councils are assisting to disseminate the latest information relating to the stage three lockdown 
  • The Rural Financial Counselling Service can assist businesses and individuals access government packages while helping people to understand their financial position and prepare budgets or action plans; phone 1300 735 578 
  • Uniting Wimmera’s support line – 1800 195 115 – can connect people with a range of support agencies and services locally

Mr Sounness warned the region should not rely on its location and “luck” to avoid further impacts of the pandemic. 

“The impacts of this lockdown – whether it’s changes to working and schooling environments, restricted movement and access to friends and family, or even wearing a mask – is not necessarily a six-week prospect. It impacts everyone – and impacts everyone differently,” he said. 

“I encourage businesses to make themselves aware of the financial and wellbeing support available to them. Looking out for the mental health of our community during this period is paramount and a little kindness could go a long way.” 

Individuals and businesses breaching lockdown orders face hefty fines. 

Connectivity opens doors

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 EXPLORING the ongoing opportunities of working remotely is among the recommendations stemming from a region-wide connectivity survey

The Wimmera Development Association-lead survey of mobile and home internet connectivity across the Wimmera and southern Mallee showed while connectivity was at times strained as more people began working and learning from home, it opened doors for connectivity in other ways. 

Executive director Chris Sounness said the association would seek to document the possibility and costs of connecting people and organisations via video conferencing ongoing

“This period has been undoubtedly challenging – but it also shows that working and learning from home can be done, and that has built autonomy and trust between employers and employees. Leaving the door open to remote working provides flexibility; it also opens doors to connect people without the onus of hours of travel for meetings or education opportunities,” Mr Sounness said. 

“This also opens further opportunities to attract skilled professionals to the region – people who are seeking a lifestyle change but wanting to retain their current employment and don’t need a physical office-front in the region. 

“We need to rethink our views on working or meeting via video conference in the wake of this period.” 

The association’s home internet connectivity study asked participants to complete a speed test three times during a 24-hour period.

Results showed that living in an urban area did not guarantee better internet speeds compared to those of rural customers, and many people were seeking alternative or upgraded services that were fit for purpose. The survey showed many people paid for internet speeds they did not receive. Results also showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely seen traditional “peak times” for internet use evaporate as demand relating to working and learning from home was spread across a longer period.

The mobile internet survey asked participants to complete a single speed test. 

Results show residents have limited choices when it comes to providers and that has more impact than location when it comes to cost and connectivity. Larger providers did not guarantee superior service. 

Mr Sounness said poor connectivity added stress and frustration at a time that already posed extreme challenges due to restrictions relating to the coronavirus health crisis. 

He said advocating for improved infrastructure, in line with the Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Digital Plan; advocating for greater education for consumers – including connectivity process and available providers; and tapping into a growing market for alternative providers were among the other recommendations stemming from the survey. 

“We have people paying for a service, but not truly understanding what the services offers them in terms of speeds. Many could also have improved service if they knew more about the connection their provider or the NBN offered, or something as seemingly simple as the position of their router,” he said. 

“There is a growing market for smaller providers in the region – who, with the right interest, are willing to discuss partnership opportunities.

“There are many different ways to solve our connectivity problems across the Wimmera and southern Mallee.” 

The show must go on, for some

ORGANISERS of half of the events cancelled in the Wimmera and southern Mallee due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions plan to reschedule their event for later this year. 

A Wimmera Development Association survey of 40 events cancelled between mid-March and May 31 also shows that more than 40 per cent of organisers have cancelled their 2020 offering altogether and will turn their attention to 2021. 

Some event managers expressed concern that their events may not re-commence at all following the effects of the pandemic including potential loss of volunteers, momentum or sponsors.

The survey, conducted in April, forecasts that event cancellations cost the region more than $23 million in economic contribution during the March to May period alone. 

This affected almost 60,000 participants with almost 30,000 day trips and more than 35,000 overnight visitors staying in the region about 75,000 nights forfeited. 

More than 1000 people were involved in organising the events with 96 per cent of them volunteers, providing about 16,000 hours of labour, project management and administrative support. 

The survey did not include the impacts of postponed seasons for sporting clubs and leagues and business-related events.

Wimmera Development Association project manager Vernetta Taylor said many event organisers also shared their concerns for the community’s mental health and wellbeing stemming from the cancellation of events. 

“It was important to reach out to event organisers to get an understanding of the impact that cancelled events, due to COVID-19, has had on our communities – financially and socially,” she said. 

“Our local events are a part of what makes our region a great place to live.  The economic fallout is obviously very significant however the social costs are also substantial.

“It is important that event organising bodies are supported, so that our many events can return to ensure a vibrant community, that attracts visitors from near and far.” 

Wimmera Development Association will present findings to survey participants and other interested parties via video conferencing on Thursday, July 2; the forum opens at 12.15pm for a 12.30pm start.  People can register here

Time to 'Unearth Amazing'

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A NEW marketing campaign is encouraging people to explore their own backyard. 

As coronavirus travel restrictionsease, Unearth Amazing calls on people across Victoria to ‘unearth amazing’ experiences within the Wimmera and southern Mallee

The campaign began on Sunday, June 14 and includes television and social media promotional videos showing the diversity and unique nature of the region. 

It marks the end of a four-year journey to attract visitors to the region through the Wimmera Southern Mallee Tourism Collaboration and Destination Management Plan project.

Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnerships initiated the project and Wimmera Development Association manages it, working with the board of Wimmera Mallee Tourism and other key stakeholders, including Grampians Tourism, in building visitationof the region.

Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnerships chairman David Jochinke said the campaign came at an important time. 

When was the last time you explored your own backyard?” Mr Jochinke said. 

“Our region offers many wonderful experiences and this campaign encourages local people to unearth the amazing that lies within the Wimmera and southern Mallee. 

When they share those amazing experiences with their family and friends,ithas flow-on benefits for communities and businesses,and creates more tourism opportunities long-term. That’s a win for everyone. 

“It’s important we gain the support of locals as the tourism industry rebounds from the impacts of the coronavirus shutdown that we recognise has been difficult for many other industries, too.” 

Leveraging the Silo Art Trail has been a key focus of the work. Work at Albacutya Silo Art will  begin soon and its addition will help connect the east and west parts of the art trail, along with Lake Tyrrell. A number of the silos have an augmented reality feature available, adding to the immersive experience the trail offers its visitors. 

The Wimmera River Discovery Trail, based at the northern part of the Wimmera River, is underway and will be ready in late 2021. The Harrow Keeper of Indigenous Cricket is in the planning stages and will recognise a part of Indigenous sporting history.

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said collaboration was key in bringing the project to life. 

“It’s great to see the various stakeholders – including Wimmera Mallee Tourism, Grampians Tourism and the state government – collaborating on such an important project to get the result we set out to achieve,” Mr Sounness said. 

People can access www.visitwimmeramallee.com.aufor more information on Unearth Amazing – including road trip itineraries.

Tourism operators and local businesses can participate in the campaign by including the hashtags #VisitWimmeraMallee #UnearthAmazing and #SiloArtTrail on social media posts. People are also encouraged to share tips and local recommendations via the Wimmera Mallee Tourism or Silo Art Trail Facebook pages. 

Through this project, Wimmera Mallee Tourismhas strengthened relationships with Grampians Tourism, Mildura/Murray River Tourism, Lucindale Tourism and the Great Southern Touring Route and is working closer with Visit Victoria.

Supporting leaders as coronavirus restrictions ease


RESILIENCE, a collaborative mindset and confidence in change management are some of the outcomes community leaders can gain from a series of online forums this month. 

As coronavirus social distancing restrictions ease, community leaders likely need to adapt their practices and planning to recognise changing times. 

Wimmera Development Association and its long-running leadership development program, Leadership Wimmera, will host a community leaders series of lunchtime forums during June. 

The series begins on Tuesday, June 16 addressing the topic: What is community leadership? Northern Grampians Shire Council chief executive Liana Thompson and Uniting Wimmera executive officer Josh Koenig, also a Horsham Rural City councillor, will share their leadership journeys and what community leadership means to them. Register here.

On Tuesday, June 23 at a forum discussing collaboration, Wimmera Health Care Group’s Amelia Crafter will share how the organisation worked with health officials, governments and the community to fund and build the Wimmera Cancer Centre, based in Horsham. Register here.

The final forum, on June 30, will discuss how people and groups can create a “new normal” in changing environments. Jo Bourke will share the challenges and successes of the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline project that changed the way rural properties access water. Register here.

Christine Kotur will lead the discussions. Ms Kotur provides expert professional services in the fields of strategy, governance, leadership development, complex inquiries, reviews and facilitation. She is a highly regarded independent chair, company director and strategic advisor to CEOs, senior executives, board chairs and directors, councillors and committees

Services, business models and policies are reshaping right now, by forces beyond our control,” Ms Kotur said. 

“It’s time to pause, get on the balcony and draw down every lesson, experience, story, idea and good advice you heard probably thinking you’d ‘come back to that later’. Come back to that knowledge now. 

People will need strong community leaders more than ever and that means we can’t stop learning.”

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said Ms Kotur was an outstanding presenter whose experience with and learnings from government inquiries and Royal Commissions had earned her immense respect. Ms Kotur is Leadership Victoria’s Leader in Residence. 

Chris is one of the best in the business in understanding how communities move through crisis. She will share what helps communities bounce back better than ever, how others reinvented themselves, and why some really struggled to pull through,” Mr Sounness said. 

He said the association was offering the forums at no cost as a way to support the community as it responded to the health crisis. 

COVID-19 is no different to any crisis in the community – people need to stand up. Our challenge at this point is to define how we, as a region, emerge post COVID-19 and keep working together for the best possible outcomes for our community and our people, Mr Sounness said. 

Chris Kotur believes that local leaders stepping up can lead to successful communities; if leadership is left to governments or other parties then recovery is far harder. 

“Our forums are all about local stories and local leadership, sharing ‘warts and all’ their experiences so others can learn from them.” 

The forums will run via Zoom and open at 12.15pm for a 12.30pm start. Recordings will be available.

Helping football, netball clubs survive

WIMMERA football and netball clubs are being encouraged to use the COVID-19 lockdown to take stock of their club’s position and plan for a sustainable future.
Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly in partnership with Wimmera Development Association will host a virtual forum at 7.30pm on Wednesday, May 20 to help equip board and committee members with the skills to make informed decisions moving forward.
The forum will provide board and committee members with a checklist and average financial figures relating to key costs and revenue for football and netball clubs in the region to assist with decision-making.
Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said it was important football and netball clubs continued to thrive.
“Sports clubs are the pillars of small communities and are part of what makes our region so attractive,” Mr Sounness said.
“We are in unprecedented times, so it is important boards and committees can have the discussions that will allow them to move forward towards a long and successful future.
“In the past, some of these decisions may have been made without consultation or consideration for the sustainability of the club.
“Working with the Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly, we want to ensure all committee members have the skills necessary to help their clubs thrive and address any common concerns clubs may have.”
Mr Sounness said representatives from all Wimmera league and Horsham and District league clubs were invited to attend the forum via Zoom on Wednesday night.
He said, in addition, the Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly and Wimmera Development Association were keen to identify what additional support football and netball clubs may need to ensure viability and sustainability.

Event cancellation hits hard

eventsEVENT cancellations due to COVID-19 has cost the Wimmera and southern Mallee more than $15 million.
Wimmera Development Association has surveyed 40 events scheduled across the region between March 22 and May 31 . Health advice and social distancing forced organisers to cancel or postpone plans due to COVID-19.
Event organisers forecast these cancellations cost the region $15.392 million in direct event expenditure and a further $7 million in indirect expenditure. This affected almost 60,000 participants with more than 20,000 day trips and 36,000 overnight visitors staying in the region about 75,000 nights forfeited. Organisers say their groups lost more than $800,000 in direct revenue and more than $120,000 in surplus.
More than 20 of the community, cultural and sporting events surveyed were due to occur in Horsham Rural City, with seven in Northern Grampians shire and six in Yarriambiack shire. These included annual drawcards such as the Stawell Gift, Grampians Grape Escape and Horsham Country Music Festival.
Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said the region had a vibrant autumn events calendar, centred around Easter.
"Events are an important part of the Wimmera community, playing a major role in bringing the community together and attracting visitors to the region,” Mr Sounness said.
“Early into the response to COVID-19, we realised the cancellation of these events was going to have huge impacts in our region – financially and socially – and these results paint a powerful picture of that impact.”
For further information on this study please contact Executive Director - Chris Sounness This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Businesses to guide regional sustainability actions

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WIMMERA and southern Mallee businesses can shape support andsustainabilityinitiatives designed for the region. 

Wimmera Development Association, the peak advocacy body supporting and promoting economic development opportunities to investors, is calling on businesses to provide feedback to informlocalised initiatives. 

Wimmera Development Association project manager Mark Fletcher said the Australian Business Economic Impact Survey (ABEIS) aimed to respond to the rapid change businesses had experienced as a result of COVID-19

REMPLAN will manage the survey and present insights throughout the lifecycle of the pandemic. 

Mr Fletcher said the survey asked people to reflect their business make-up; forecast the impacts of the coronavirus disruption on revenue, customers, staffing and production of goods; and investigate their priorities for coming months in order to assess the business’ capacity to adapt to changing and challenging times. 

Mr Fletcher said Wimmera Development Association and councils could access a breakdown of that feedback relative to their location.

“REMPLAN economic modelling is highly recognised by the state government for planning applications, and local governments use the information for future planning and project development, business support and grant applications,” Mr Fletcher said.

“The more information this survey can collect, the morerepresentative it will be – for shires and industries. 

“We understand businesses are responding to the now. Planning for the future and accessing support to recover also remains critical.” 

Mr Fletcher said people could visit https://surveys.remplan.com.au/s3/REMPLAN-COVID-19-ABEISto access the survey. It takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Wimmera Development Association is the peak advocacy body behind many major, emerging projects in the region. It supports businesses, promotes economic development opportunities to investors and is a key link between industry and governments, lobbying for improved infrastructure and for regional priority issues.

Parliamentary inquiry to hear Wimmera experiences

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FEEDBACK from a Wimmera-based study into the impacts of working and learning from home during the coronavirus crisis will inform federal parliamentary inquiry submission discussing the issue. 

Wimmera Development Association is leading a study that investigates the impact of this period on families – and particularly mothers who are juggling home learning, home duties and work commitments during the crisis. 

Feedback from the study will inform a submission to the inquiry into the role of culture, family and community in delivering better education outcomes for students living in remote Australia and in complex environments. 

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said the House Education Committeerenewed calls for submissions last week as students and teachers started preparing to return to the classroom.

The Wimmera community contributing to this inquiry ensures that parliament gains understanding of the challenges we face in our region, along with the opportunities we have,” MrSounness said. 

Our region is keen to ensure we allow our students to achieve their best possible outcomes and we know we need to provide most appropriate support to the students, their families and the institutions to allow this to occur.” 

MrSounnesssaid people could text their first name and a contact phone number to 0491 628 338to register their interest for the studyThose involved in learning from home, or supervising learning from home are eligible. Participants will be contacted to arrange an interview, lasting about 20 minutes. 

The House Education Committee adopted the inquiry in November. Public hearing arrangements are suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions but submissions remain open until June 15

The committee’s work will highlight initiatives to meet the unique learning needs of students and to address barriers that they may face when accessing education. It will also now take into account the response and challenges of distancing learning in recent months. 

The committee also wants to hear about the experience of remote schools; career counselling of remote students; challenges faced by regional schooling providers and initiatives in place;how families of vulnerable children can access, enrol and remain in early learning, and the collaboration between early and primary education; the performance and monitoring of those in home schooling to maintain national minimum standards; andaccess and support to deliver the Australian curriculum including STEM in a flexible way.

Wimmera Development Association is the peak advocacy body behind many major, emerging projects in the region. It supports businesses, promotes economic development opportunities to investors and is a key link between industry and governments, lobbying for improved infrastructure and for regional priority issues.

MrSounness said peopleseeking assistance could phone Uniting’s Wimmera on 1800 195 114. Students canspeak to their teacher or school’s wellbeing officer for learning guidance; or contact eheadspace on 1800 650 890 for mental health support. In an emergency, contact 000.